When I was studying creative writing at university, it felt like a competition. There were only so many spaces out there, in the ‘literary world’ and every piece you wrote had to be the best. It had to be meaningful and exploratory and say something about life.
Well, you know what? I was eighteen. I had jack shit to say about life that someone hadn’t already said. I had limited life experience, and everything I wrote was obnoxious and self indulgent. But that was okay, because that’s what learning the craft was for. But no matter what, no matter if you wrote something for enjoyment, or wrote it to prove a point, if you were proud of it or hated it – someone would tear you down. Under the guise of constructive criticism and a ‘need to feedback’ (especially as you got marked for participation) someone would rip the shit out of the heart you wore on your sleeve.
And so I learnt not to talk about my writing. Not to share ideas, not to discuss it for fear of dismissal. The fact that I’m better on paper than in person adds to this fear – that ‘no honestly, it’s better than it sounds’ as noses turned upwards made me irritated and fearful. But you know what else it did? It made me write. It made me write without a need for someone else’s justifications or opinions. It made me write for me. It made me get a book done and dusted and published, because I didn’t let anyone else see it. I just did it.
And now, years later, I can see why people have writer friends. Because it’s not a competition any more, it’s a way to keep sane and motivated and happy and because it’s about people who get you. Writing is a super lonely business.
So here’s the things I love about my writer friends:
- They will always make some noise on publication day, or any sort of event.
- They get how infuriating it is to get those one star reviews that say ‘haven’t read it’ or ‘file didn’t open’ or ‘thought it was a different book.’
- They get how elating it is to get a five star review where someone really loved what you did.
- They get the lure and danger of social media, but the absolute need for it.
- They are happy to answer questions, and are a fountain of knowledge. Issues with rights, don’t know how to promote, editor ignoring you? They’ve been there, they know what to do. And what not to do.
- They know the hundreds of annoying things people do when you’re a writer (e.g Ask if you’re going to be the next JK Rowling; ask how much money you make; ask if you’re a ‘real’ writer; ask you to write their life story; ask you to come up with a story on the spot; pitch you an idea for an amazing book; comment that it must be so nice to have all that free time to write; explain that they’d write a book if they weren’t so busy).
- They will make you LAUGH YOUR ARSE OFF about these things, because you realise they happen to everyone, and it’s a bloody funny old world.
- They will make you realise you are not alone, and we’re all in this battle.
- You will commiserate when things are awful, and you will feel proud of each other when amazing things happen.
- You won’t feel jealous of their achievements, but their achievements will make you feel like your dreams are possible.
- You will realise ‘writer’s bum’ is a thing, and that everyone is trying to find ways to burn calories at their desk and not reach for the chocolate hobnobs when times are tough.
- You will realise that the drunken writer’s cliche has probably come from the ridiculous one star reviews and accidentally stumbling onto Goodreads – gin is often required.
- They will share your rage when hateful reviewers use GIFs to animate the mean things they say about your work.
- They will also wonder how someone can possibly have so much hate in their veins they need to animate their insults.
- They will teach you to have a thicker skin, and laugh your arse off.
- They will help you spot a mean review from a wannabe writer a mile off.
- They will help you feel better about self promotion.
- They will be there to discuss the important matters, not just Oxford commas and present tense first person narratives, not just ‘what’s the word for this?’ but representing minorities in writing, why there aren’t enough gay love stories and whether the world is ready for what you want to write.
- They will make you a better writer and a more empathetic, thoughtful person.
- Sometimes you will feel jealous and you will feel bad, and then they’ll be so lovely that you remember you’re not a terrible person.
- When you’re balls to the wall against a deadline, you’re writing 5k words a day and it’s not coming fast enough and you’re sure it’s shit but you’ve got to get the book done…they’re there. With hilarious GIFS and cheerleading over the internet. And they GET IT. Because they’ve been there.
- They will teach you all the things they learnt along the way. Sometimes you will feel like a newbie, and sometimes you will feel like a zen master, able to pass that knowledge along.
- You will make mistakes. You will put a bad book out, or you’ll sign a bad contract, or the book won’t sell. And they won’t be there to say ‘I told you so.’ They’ll be there to help anyway they can, and share their stories of their own mistakes.
- They will make you forget the horrible time you had with other obnoxious teenagers learning to write, because they are your colleagues, your friends and your support system.
So to my writing friends – THANK YOU. You keep me sane and motivated and calm. You are a fountain of knowledge and hilarity.